Church Facility Projects – So You Want to Launch a Building Project?

Whether you’re renting a facility or want to expand the one you already own, the decision to embark on a building project isn’t one to take lightly.  This effort will require a significant amount of time, energy, money, teamwork, and prayer.  If you don’t have prior experience in the construction industry or an unlimited budget (who does?!), then this is time to pause and consider what you’re about to do as a church.

It’s always helpful to have a road map or GPS available before you set out on a trip into unfamiliar territory.  With that in mind, we’ve developed a series of posts to guide you through key milestones in the construction journey.  From architectural drawings to financing and more, we’ll walk you through the major issues and point out potential pitfalls.

To get started, let’s address what you need to do first.  There are lots of behind-the-scenes details to manage as you start planning this significant effort.

Determine Your Why

The first phase of any construction project starts way before you hire a construction crew or start moving dirt.  You have much planning to do before you can get to those steps.  In fact, the first thing you should consider is “why”.

  •      Why do we want to do this project?
  •      Have we outgrown our current facility?
  •      Do we see a need in our community that this project could fill (that our current facility can not)?

Getting clarity on the vision behind the project is a pivotal first step.  Without a clear vision, you’ll have trouble making decisions and communicating why people should donate towards this project.

Gather a Team of Advisors

As we read in Proverbs 15:22, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”  Unless you are fortunate enough to have people within your congregation with these specialized skill-sets, you’ll need to bring in outside experts to give you wise counsel.  This is the time to start talking with potential architects, lenders, and capital campaign consultants.  It’s tempting to think you should start with an architect before talking with potential lenders so you know how much money you’ll need.  However, talking with lenders as you meet with your architect can help you determine what a lender is willing to loan to your church.  That can have a significant impact on what you can afford to design with an architect. Remember: You can do a building project in phases as your budget allows.  Trying to do it all at once isn’t necessary.  Check out “If it’s Phase-able, It’s Feasible” for more insights into that approach.

Get Your Facilities Manager Involved Now

Whoever is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of your current facility needs to be involved in the planning process from day one.  This is the person who knows the constraints of your current facility, who hears the complaints from staff and volunteers, and who has to figure out where to store everything for multi-functioning rooms.  Even if you’re renting a facility, this is the person who knows how your congregation uses a building and what you’ll need in a new facility.

One example of where you’ll need to involve the facilities manager is in discussions with your project management team.  Here are a few questions your facilities manager may want to ask:

  • How can we setup the lighting and HVAC controls so we can save money by making the use of electricity more efficient?
  • How are we accounting for storage?  Consider how you’ll use each room.  If a room is multi-         functioning, decide where you’ll store extra tables and chairs for various room configurations.
  • How will we maintain this new facility?  If we have lights 20-30 feet in the air with pews or theater seats below, how will we replace the bulbs?

Consider the Total Cost

The total cost doesn’t simply include what it will take to build the facility.  Construction costs are just one piece of the overall puzzle.  Construction costs typically don’t include design elements such as theatrical lighting, sound, furniture, décor, flooring, paint, environmental graphics, IT components, etc. You’ll also need to factor in what it will cost to operate and maintain the facility once you’ve moved in.  This includes monthly utilities, maintenance and repairs, janitorial services, and maintenance staff.

Another item to consider is your long-term life cycle planning.  This is your plan for stewarding the new facility and the equipment associated with it so you can maintain and replace items as needed.  Each item has a life cycle or amount of time it will last.  HVAC units eventually stop working.  You’ll need to replace the soundboards and flooring at some point.  Consider the cost of replacing each item and what you should set aside in a capital reserve fund each month so you can easily pay for those replacements when the time comes.  eSPACE provides a free Life Cycle Calculator you can use to start this planning process.

Add up the monthly mortgage payment, what you’ll spend each month to maintain the facility (including insurance costs), and what you need to set aside for capital reserves.  Is that amount something your church can comfortably afford?  If not, now is the time to adjust plans and expectations before you’ve invested any money into the project.

Start Planning for the Capital Campaign

Unless you’ve already been saving for years, you’ll likely need to run a capital campaign to raise money for this project.  Before you announce anything to the congregation, you will need to do careful planning on how and when to cast this vision.  Brad Leeper from Generis offered these tips:

  • Start talking with church staff, leaders (elders, deacons, etc.), major givers, and small groups to align leaders before presenting the campaign to the full congregation.
  • Make sure you’re clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing.  You’ll raise more money by taking a longer view of the capital campaign process.  This is more about creating a culture of generosity and leveraging that cultural change than a short-term campaign.

This planning phase is vital to the success of your building project.  Don’t shortcut or skip anything in this phase.  You’ll end up having to deal with these tasks at some point anyway, so it’s best to handle them now before you’ve invested considerable time and money.

In addition, we have recently developed a FREE Church Facility Evaluator. This simple tool will provide you with a snapshot of some key indicators associated with facility operational costs.  This 2-3 minute evaluation will give you some real time data…based on national averages…as to whether you are GOOD TO GO…or in need of help.

Don’t wait…get started HERE!

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